How do you evaluate an NBA team’s young nucleus?
Typically, it comes down to the potential of their rookies and whether any of their recent rookies have elevated closer to star status.
Well, the Miami Heat have both.
And they’ve done it without the high picks of other teams.
The Heat have not even taken the projected player in their past few drafts. Bam Adebayo was not expected to go to Miami at 14, and Tyler Herro was not supposed to be the number 13 pick. This is because the Heat not only pick the player who best fits the team, but also who most fits the culture. Bam and Herro are both proponents of the culture with their work ethic and winning mentality.
The Heat also have a history of cultivating and empowering undrafted prospects. Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, and Derrick Jones, Jr., did not make it to this point the traditional route. This means that they already had a bit of Miami Heat grit upon entering. Now, they play huge roles on a top 4 seed and are hardly finished products, even though Robinson just turned 25 and Nunn is 24.
Well, here’s where they fit among the rest of the NBA…
The criteria for this list is players under 25 and is ranked based on potential of the young core.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl Anthony Towns, D-Angelo Russell, Jarrett Culver, and Josh Okogie
The Minnesota Timberwolves are ranked 5 due to the new addition, D’Angelo Russell, via trade with the Golden State Warriors. There is chemistry between Russell and Towns since they came up together through high school and AAU. Jarrett Culver is an intriguing young prospect who has gotten quality minutes this past year along with Josh Okogie. Josh has made himself known through his toughness on the defensive side of the ball and scrappiness. These four guys elevate this team to number 5 on this list.
4. Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Romeo Langford, and Carson Edwards
Jayson Tatum has had a breakout season as a No. 1 or No. 2 option, averaging 24 points per game and validating his choice on the All-Star team. This goes the same for Jaylen Brown, a defensive stopper with versatility who was in the All-Star discussion also. Boston has other young pieces, but Carson Edwards, Romeo Langford, and Tacko Fall have not shown much in their rookie years so far. If they do start to show improvement, especially Langford, there’s a chance this core could be on top.
3. Miami Heat
Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Derrick Jones Jr
The Miami Heat have made the biggest jump when discussing young cores after drafting Tyler Herro, picking up Kendrick Nunn, and molding Duncan Robinson. Bam Adebayo went from being a guy that had a good amount of potential to being indispensable with limitless upside. Derrick Jones Jr has also been a big time role player for the Heat, especially with his defensive versatility, though it’s questionable whether they will be able to re-sign him, even though he wants to stay.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, Brandon Clarke, and Justise Winslow
Ja Morant looks like the Rookie of the Year, not only averaging 18 points a game and providing highlight dunks, but leading his team to a surprise playoff position with his distribution and late-game playmaking. Brandon Clarke has been historically efficient as a rookie, a polished player who is a perfect complement to Morant. Jaren Jackson Jr has made major improvements in his second year, becoming a 17 points per game scorer with shooting range. And of course, if Winslow can stay healthy, we’ve seen what he can do. The question is how he will fit off the ball with Morant, after seemingly assuming point guard duties in Miami.
1. New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Jaxson Hayes
There’s no surprise here with the amount of young talent they’ve gotten in the last year. They were able to trade for Lonzo Ball, who is one of the best passing point guards in the NBA, and Brandon Ingram, who finally flourished and became an All-Star this year, showing some Kevin Durant lite qualities when Zion Williamson was out. Jaxson Hayes also showed signs of improvement as his rookie season progressed. This young core has the most potential over the next couple years.But this, of course, is mostly about Zion, the most intriguing prospect since LeBron James, who started to dominate prior to the shutdown. Now the Pelicans just need some veterans, other than just Jrue Holiday, to help them consistently compete for a top seed in the West.